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Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Holds Hearing on FY2004 Appropriations

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

FDCH TRANSCRIPTS
Congressional Hearings
Apr. 8, 2003

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Holds Hearing on FY2004 Appropriations

KOHL:

Thank you very much, Senator Cochran.

Mr. Brown, the current terror alert system, as it is intended to do, is causing people to be considerably alarmed and to come to attention as well as causing considerable expense inevitably across many parts of our country.

At a time when budgets are squeezed, a higher alert status has, in many cases, resulted in an increased overtime and anxiety. Many areas of our 50 states are beginning to not take the system seriously enough because they believe that the threat does not apply to them.

This alert system could easily turn into the boy who cried wolf in that people will not take it seriously enough until it is too late.

What changes to the system is the department considering and can we in fact expect changes in the future?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

KOHL:

Well, what I was referring to is any code. Let's take the second highest, I believe, is that code orange?

BROWN:

Yes.

KOHL:

Yes. Well, when we issue a code orange alert, are we intending that every community in every state across the entire 50 states are at the same level of risk and should respond?

BROWN:

When the secretary and the attorney general make the decision to change the threat level, either up or down, they're doing that based on specific intelligence that they receive about the threat.

And I would say, Senator, based on the intelligence that the secretary and the undersecretaries have received that caused the threat level to go up to orange, there is a very real credible threat out there and I think it's incumbent upon us to convey that to state and local governments as succinctly and appropriately as we can.

KOHL:

What we're asking them to do then, all parts in all 50 states to go on alert and to do those things and spend that kind of money, which is consistent with code orange.

BROWN:

Yes, sir.

KOHL:

Are we suggesting that Rawlins, Wyoming is at the same level of risk as Washington, D.C. and New York City?

BROWN:

No. But I think what I'm miscommunicating is what Rawlins, Wyoming should do is instead of taking what we've done at FEMA, for example, and take all... let's say there were 40 items that you can do at code orange that Rock Springs or Rawlins or someplace in Wyoming instead ought to decide that we're going to do two or three of those things, because we don't need to do all 40 of them.

And so they can hold down their cost by implementing that kind of system.

KOHL:

So then you're suggesting that every community should make a decision?

BROWN:

Absolutely.

KOHL:

Well then would Los Angeles make a decision or are they in a position to make a decision any less than Washington, D.C. or New York?

BROWN:

If I were...

KOHL:

In other words, what I'm suggesting to you and it's OK, because you're just starting or we're just starting as a country and we need refinement.

It seems to me that there needs to be considerable thought as I presume and hope will be given. And some specific direction and guidance so that all states and communities within all states can be helped to make particular and specific decisions on what these alert systems really mean and how they should be applied and how they do not apply in many cases.

In fact, most parts of America are very unlikely to be hit in time of terrorism. And I haven't yet heard from the department an understanding in a recognition of that as some kind of an alert system that will account for the fact that most parts of our country are really at low risk even at times of high risk.

BROWN:

And your point's very well taken and I think it's incumbent upon FEMA, which is now part of the department, to take our protocols in the way we decide what we should be doing or shouldn't be doing and help the state and locals do the same thing.

Help them; give them the tools they need to prepare based on the risk that they may face in their unique community. Because, as you say, there may be a community that looks around and says our risk really is a dam that might be blown up. So, when we change threat levels, we need to focus on that and our energy on that particular vulnerability and not do everything that FEMA might suggest we do when we go from one level to another.

KOHL:

Thank you. Last question: As you know, state and local governments are struggling with budget cuts. Many are also working with reduced staffs because of call-ups of the guard or reserve.

After this, the seemingly constant elevated security alert level at times and the governments are struggling with skyrocketing overtime costs, local and state governments associated with our new security threat.

As a result, many fire departments and emergency managers are not sending their people to training, because those extra hours mean even more overtime and overtime that they're not in a position to account for.

So, my question is will the department allow the use of training grants to reimburse for overtime?

BROWN:

Senator, I think I'll be corrected or somebody will kick me in the chair if I say this wrong, but I'm pretty certain that we are restricted from using the grant money for overtime.

I think what we want to do instead is try to get as much of that grant money out to localities so we can train the trainer programs, so we can push the training down to the state and local level and not require them all the time to come to Emmetsburg or come someplace else to do the training. And I think that would help alleviate part of that problem.

KOHL:

Well, I think what you're saying is true and that's what I'm referring to. I'm suggesting that because those training grants can't be used for overtime...

BROWN:

Right.

KOHL:

...and because overtime is being expended. And they don't have the money to compensate for that overtime.

BROWN:

That's correct.

KOHL:

So, if they don't send their people in many cases to these training programs, which you desperately want them to do, they can't pay for it.

BROWN:

That's right.

KOHL:

So, aside from throwing up your hands and saying well, you'll just have to make do the best you can with these increased emergency problems and training problems, which is not something we want to do, how else are they going to pay for this overtime when they can use some of this training money?

You know, maybe you would suggest well you could use 20 percent of it or 10 percent or 5 percent, not all of it, but something that would give the states and the local governments access to some additional funding to pay for the training that is being required.

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